TEHRAN, Iran -- It was literally a command performance in Iranian political theater: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was dragged yesterday before parliament to face unprecedented questioning over his policies, suffering another blow from hard-line opponents who now have the upper hand.

The full hour of posturing, potshots and probing -- broadcast live on radio -- was a lesson in the unforgiving realities of Iran's two-tier political system and how it shapes all critical decisions, such as Tehran's nuclear program and its standoff with the West.

The ruling Islamic clerics retain ultimate control over every key aspect of political, military and industrial affairs, including handpicking the top posts in the government. When Ahmadinejad offered some resistance, the blowback was harsh, with one-time conservative backers breaking away and the ruling system launching political purges of his allies.

It also emboldened Ahmadinejad's critics in parliament to make him the first president hauled before the chamber for questioning since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

While an embarrassment for Ahmadinejad, the spectacle in parliament didn't carry any immediate political consequences that could push him from office before the election next year to pick his successor. There is a chance -- however small at the moment -- that lawmakers could debate whether to move toward impeachment efforts.

The questioning further reinforced the narrative that Ahmadinejad is deeply wounded politically and unlikely to have a protege on the ballot in presidential elections next year.

It also highlighted that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the hard-line guardians of the ruling establishment, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard, are firmly in control before the possible renewal of talks with world powers over Iran's nuclear program. An unwillingness to make compromises to ease the standoff could bring stronger calls for military action from Israel and the United States.

The parliamentary grilling included no questions about the nuclear program or Iran's response to Western sanctions.

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